I started off my reading year with another Persephone book. This was a really good one and I enjoyed it a lot, though I’m wondering if it’s destined to be forgotten soon. As I said in my end-of-2007 post, I really want to get away from the “more of the same” feeling that most of 2007’s reading choices evoked in me. While this was a fun, satisfying read, it was a very predictable choice for me.
This is a coming of age story that begins when the protagonist, Maria, is about 11 and continues through the early days of her marriage. Set in the 1920’s and ‘30s, the story doesn’t sound like much, but the beauty is in the details. Dickens captures what it’s like to be a girl at age 11, 13, 17, etc. so perfectly, without sentimentality or over reliance on emotion, and she does so in a way that is perfectly timeless.
Maria is an average girl, and her life is mundane and predictable. Yet this book is filled with moments when an adult (female) reader thinks “Yes, that’s how it is! That happened to me, too!” Dickens manages to make the situations fresh, even while they are completely familiar. Yes, most girls are more assertive now, and have more choices. But what it feels like to be a girl obviously hasn’t changed much. On the Persephone Web site is a quote from Dickens about her work: “My aim is to entertain rather than instruct. I want readers to recognize life in my books.” That readers can still recognize it sixty years on is a tribute to her skills as an observer and a writer.
(Book 1, 2008)